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About this series
10 Ways to be an Exceptional Parent in a Quick Fix World
Just like anything that’s constructed well – a solid business, a powerful engine, or a superb meal – successful parenting requires intentionality and a plan. And that’s why Living on the Edge is pleased to share this series from Doug Fields, Senior Director of the Homeword Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Doug has been called by many "America's youth pastor."More from this series
Presence is not about you just being around your kids, because a lot of people say, “Well, Doug, I work at home.” Well, that’s great, but the key question: Is that your body or your heart that’s around? That’s the major question.
Do your kids really believe that you are available? Because the issue is not presence. Here it is, and I put it in your notes, it is perceived presence. There’s a Harvard study that confirmed, and it’s so fascinating to me, the number one most common factor producing anger, hostility, and rage in kids is this: The perceived – key word, “perceived” – the perceived inaccessibility of one or both parents.
That’s a head snapper. Because you think anger, rage, and hostility would be something, contributed something more horrible – some type of abuse or poor discipline or not allowing your teenager to have a credit card or something like that.
But thousands of studies, here’s what it is: Perceived inaccessibility. What is something that I am doing for myself that is taking time away from my family?
Now, for some of us in here, we need to make some mid-course corrections, even with our careers. Because parenting is synonymous with sacrifice. You’re a parent, it’s about sacrifice. You sacrifice your comfort.
I have told you before that as my kids were growing up and I was coaching them in sports and my kids all had their friends over at our house or whatever I would go, “I don’t ever see your dad! How come your dad doesn’t come to your games.” “Oh, my dad doesn’t, he doesn’t like basketball.” That’s when I want to be a UFC fighter and punch somebody in the neck. Right here. Okay? I just want to find that dad and go, “Dad! You don’t go to your kid’s seventh grade basketball game for quality athleticism.” Okay? Have you been to a seventh grade girls’ basketball game? It’s awful! It’s the sport that will be played in hell! Its halftime score is two to one! And you’re like, Oh my!
You don’t go, it’s not watching the Superbowl! You’re there for your kid. And, parents, I realize, some of you are already feeling guilty. I know, as parents, we can’t make everything. I know you can’t make everything. That’s why this point is consistent presence and not constant presence.
Okay? Consistent presence. So missing is the exception rather than the rule. Because your very presence is a sign of caring and connectedness. Just showing up, being there, watching, observing.
I realize we live in a sports psycho world. And for you parents, let me just give you an aside. Again, my kids are all out of the house. I wish I had, it took me too long to learn this. You go to your kids’ games, just watch! You don’t have to coach. Don’t coach from the stands. Don’t go whisper in their ear during the game. Don’t lecture them on the way home.
If you want to coach them, wait forty-eight hours before you say anything to them. See, what they need from you, Mom and Dad, is not for you to be a coach, but for you to be a cheerleader. Okay? That’s what they need the most.
So when it comes to presence, parents, we have got to be present. And this one is going to bother some of you and that’s why I put it in your notes, because I want you to think about it. Is we have got to defeat the electronic dependency.
This right here, Mom and Dad? This is not being present. Oh yeah. Okay? This little device, let me just give you a tip. I would encourage you: stop using this in your car when your kid is in the car. Okay? When your kids are in the car, just make it a rule. Nobody talks on the phone. I don’t talk on the phone.
Now, some of you are like, Doug, I would rather tithe more. No, I don’t think so. You have got your kid trapped in the car! This is when you talk. This is when you sing. This is when you laugh. This is when you make jokes. This is when, when they are a teenager, you communicate in one-word sentences. This is when you’ve got them!
Get off the phone and engage with them. See, our technological leashes, they maintain our availability to everybody else but they are hurting primary relationships. See, when you are able to connect to everyone all the time, you’re not connected to those who are most important. And I think this is such a big deal in our culture that very few people are talking about.
Just in the last few months I wrote this workbook called, “Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?” And it’s a workbook for parents to go through before you do anything with your kid’s phone, for you to get a habit on your own understanding of electronics and what it’s doing in your life first. And then if you don’t have some boundaries before you give your kids a phone, you are crazy. Okay? You’re crazy. Just learn from people who have been before you.
Now, please understand me. I have a phone, I have Facebook, I have Twitter. I am not anti-electronics. I am not asking you to go buy a buggy and grow a beard and become Amish. Ladies, I am not asking you to run from appliances.
But there are times when you have got to be totally available to your family, to unplug from those devices. Because presence, here’s the bottom line, presence communicates this: You are really important to me. You are valuable. I care deeply about you. And you have got my presence.
Grandparents, that’s why, in today’s culture of moms and dads both working, you are so important. Because, grandparents, you are present. You are so good at being present. And they need you to be present. You’re not on your phone texting, mostly because you don’t know how. But you’re not skipping pages when you’re reading books to kids. You are present.
As a kid, I loved being with my grandparents. On a sunny day, indoors, hearing about their different medicines and chronic health problems. It was beautiful. Beautiful.
All right. The ninth thing all kids need from caring adults are role models. Okay? Healthy kids have significant adults who have poured into their lives. Two types: You, the parent, as a role model. And second would be others as a role model.
Parents, you are a role model. Okay? You are a role model. The primary role model to your kids. The only time that changes is when you abandon your role, then culture moves in, and culture provides role models. But all research points to the fact that parents are primary role models.
My middle child is twenty-two. And when he was a little boy, he had a phrase: “Watch me! Dad! Dad! Watch me!” Okay? We would be at church or something. I would be talking to somebody afterwards and he would get on stage and he would be like, “Dad! Dad! Dad! Watch! Watch me, Dad! Watch! Dad! Dad! Dad! Watch!” And he was just trying to get my attention. “Watch! Watch!”
And now that he is twenty-two, he doesn’t do it as much. But here’s what I have learned. Somewhere in his growing years, he moved from, “Watch me!” to, “I’m watching you. I’m watching you, Dad.” He didn’t ever tell me. All my kids didn’t tell me.
But as a parent, you’re under surveillance 24/7. “I am watching how you treat Mom, Dad. I am watching what you do with your finances. I am watching how you interact with strangers. I am watching if you really live out what you talk about on stage. I am watching how you deal with conflict, I am watching what you do with alcohol. I’m watching. I’m watching you. I’m watching what you do in moral situations.”
Parents, my point is this: You have, there is identity theft happening in your home. Your kids are stealing your identity. So the question becomes: What does that identity look like?
A couple of biggies for parents, I would encourage you first is, I think, parents, we have got to be very careful that we model integrity. And to model integrity, you have to be a person of integrity.
All school studies point to the fact that cheating is on the rise. Is cheating on the rise because education is getting more difficult? I don’t think so. I think it’s on the rise because our kids have seen hundreds of little fibs along the way and they have just learned that you can negotiate life that way.
They have heard mom and dad on the phone exaggerating or lying about things that they know haven’t taken place. They have been that child up at the movie counter, at the amusement park, and, “Don’t tell them your age, don’t tell them your age. We’ll get in cheaper this way. And you don’t act like an adult so I sure ain’t paying adult prices.” That type of thing.
Or when you go to the donut store and you eat a donut on the way home, “Don’t tell, just tell mom they gave us eleven, okay?” Purely fictitious illustration on that one.
But kids possess the character of their parents. Integrity is a big deal, not only in our culture, it’s, again, it’s a big deal to God.
1 Chronicles 29, I love this verse. It says, “I know, my God, that You test the heart and You are pleased with integrity.” I love that verse. God knows your heart and You are pleased with integrity.
Now, parents, all of us, we are going to blow it with integrity. And here is my little tip to you: When you blow it, apologize. Just apologize to your kid. Well, why would I apologize? Because apologizing is an act of integrity. Your kids, they know you’re not perfect. You were wrong. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry that, it was stupid of me. I was just trying to save money and I made a mistake. I should not have done that. And, actually, I am going to go back and pay the right price for your ticket. That was dumb.” “Hey, buddy, I need to ask for your forgiveness. Last night I made a decision to not go to your game to work instead. And I made the wrong decision. I blew it. And I am sorry. And I would like to ask for your forgiveness.” “Hey, pal, I’m sorry that I told you to tell mom that there was only eleven donuts. And I feel really bad that I told her that you ate one of them.”
So they know you’re not perfect. So just admit it. Model it. And I have had to apologize to my kids more than I want to admit. Okay? So when it comes to role models, you model integrity.
Second thing, parents, I want to encourage you to do is model your faith in Jesus. Model your faith in Jesus. Now, I realize not everyone here has a faith in Jesus. And I am thrilled that you are here if you don’t. This is a safe place for you to come and investigate who Jesus is and the ways of Jesus and what does He teach and what is all this about?
But for those of us who do have a faith in Jesus, your kids need to see that faith in action. The Bible is very clear that one of our roles as parents is to, what I call, pass on the baton of faith to our kids. Pass on the baton of faith.
Look at this verse in Deuteronomy 6. It says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your heart. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.”
You are passing it on all the time – morning, noon, and night. “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” So what am I to pass on? Well, look at what it says in the last verse: “Foreheads,” what do you mean, “foreheads?”
Forehead is a symbol of knowledge. So I am going to pass on the knowledge of the ways of Jesus. What about your hands? Hands is the symbol for action, faith. They need to see your faith in action. And let me be really clear. Your kids don’t need to see perfect parents.
There are no perfect parents. Parents, all perfect parents do is create, produce intimidation and create insecurity. What my kids need to see is a dad who is aligning his life, doing the best he can to align his life with the teachings of Jesus. To see a mom who loves Jesus and has a desire to follow Jesus. That’s what they need to see, not me to wear a label, “Christian.” I don’t even know what a Christian is anymore.
But for them to see a follower of Jesus who has placed his life or her life behind Jesus and walks with Him. That’s what I mean by modeling faith in Jesus.
Now, there’s another type of role model, and that is others as a role model. And all research points to the fact that healthy kids, and this is what is interesting, healthy kids, regardless of where they grew up – Cambodian refugee camps, the housing project slums in New York City, or to the middle-wealthy class in Orange County – they all, all those kids have role models, those who are healthy from those environments, role models, in addition to parents who are plugging away and loving on their kids.
And that’s why I love the Church body. That’s why this is so beautiful. There is just this army of people who are investing in one another’s lives. Lives impact other lives. The Church is a family, and families care for one another. And this is a place where people are trying to invest in your kids. I encourage you to take advantage of that.
Some of you who don’t have kids, you don’t have kids yet or you are grandparents – your kids are out. What if you thought, Hey, I could invest in other people and get involved here in the children’s ministry or the youth ministry or get mentoring. We need to come alongside one another.
There are single parents here who are so struggling. There are people waiting, they are just dying for somebody to come invest in their kids and be a mentor – big brother, big sister. Let’s do this as a community. So what do all kids need? They need role models.
Finally, what all kids need in caring adults is they need a peaceful home. Not a perfect home, but a peaceful home. And if your house is anything like mine, it might be chaotic. When my kids were in the teen years, we made our house a place where everybody could hang. There would be times where Cathy and I would come home to be met by complete strangers who were telling us we were out of Ding Dongs. Okay?
I can remember one time coming home and this kid is looking at a spill on our carpet. His name was Jason. And he was, like, doing this. And I walk up to him and I said, “Jason, what are you doing?” “Oh, Mr. Fields! Mr. Fields. Put your head this way. Because if you look at the stain like this, it looks like the face of Jesus!” I said, “Jason, I’m going to help you see Jesus a lot sooner if you don’t clean up that stain. Okay?”
So we have a busy, kid-oriented house. But one of the things that Cathy and I always strive for, having just studied kids, is that we wanted a peaceful home. So the question I put in your notes, in the long run, will your kids describe your house as a place of peace?
Why peace? Because kids are in combat all day long. They are filled with painful battles. Battles with bullies, battles with pressure, battles with conformity, battles with body-image. And here’s the deal: If a kid knows that he can come home, ahhh, to a house that is safe, where he slides through the door and it’s almost like you just, Oh, I’m home! When they know that their home is a peaceful place, it helps them withstand some of the pressures and the stress and the comparisons and the put-downs and the temptations.
And, really, some of the things that I have been talking about in this series, I am defining what a peaceful home is. Where there is discipline, but not a lot of yelling. Where there are boundaries, but not a lot of rules. That’s peaceful. Where parents are welcoming to friends, encouraging words, affections.
Where the marriage at home is healthy, that provides a sense of peace for kids. A freedom of comparison from their siblings, a place where kids can be themselves and they don’t have to pretend. That’s all a peaceful home.
So how do we, as parents, how do we turn up the volume of peace? Here’s the only way I know how. How do you turn up the volume of peace in your house? You have got to experience peace for yourself first. You have got to experience God’s peace.
And let me go direct to you as we close out this series. Some of you are parenting to please other people. Some of you are parenting to look good and your kid’s performance makes you feel better about yourself. Mom or Dad, that is not a parent of peace. That’s a parent of insecurity.
And when you parent out of insecurity, you create an insecure and, actually, shame-filled home. If you want a peace-filled home, you have got to become a peace-filled person. And the biblical word for peace is absence of war. That’s what peace means. Absence of war.
It means that you are not at war with God, you’re not at war with others, and you’re not at war within yourself. And war may seem a little radical to you, like, a war with God. But the Bible teaches that I am, as a sinful person, I am at war. I am separated from a perfect and holy God. Okay?
Because there is a perfect and holy God, I can’t have a relationship with Him and that is why Jesus came and died a brutal death on the cross because He was perfect. He took on what I can’t pay. He took on my sins so now I could have a relationship with God. Now I could be at peace with God. That is the good news.
God, in His love, reconciled us together. Take a look. Colossians 1:20, “And through Him, Jesus, God reconciled.” In your notes, circle that word. That’s: “Brought together.” God brought everything together to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. And now I don’t have to be at war.
Not only do I not have to be at war, I get the gift of His presence. Take a look at the next verse, Romans 8:6, “By letting the Holy Spirit control your mind, leads to life and peace.” So now you and I, with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can be the initiator of peace in our home.
And if you have never settled that relationship with Jesus, I encourage you to. To lean into Jesus. Investigate Him, follow Him, look at what He teaches, and invite His love into your heart. See, your child needs a peaceful home. That peaceful home starts in your heart.
Our theme verse in this whole series has been Ephesians 5:1. It says, “Follow God’s example, therefore,” say it with me, “as dearly loved children.” And my point has been this: When your identity as a dearly loved child, when you go, Okay, that’s who I am, that’s how you parent.
When you know you are dearly loved by God, then you can dearly love others. When you are deeply loved by God and you know that and that becomes your identity, you can deeply love others.
Let’s close with this verse. In Luke 15 it says, “So he,” and I want you to put your name there. “So Doug,” “So Cathy,” “So Kyle,” “So Caroline,” “…returned home to his father and while he was still a long way off, his father,” this is God, “saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, kissed him. ‘We had to celebrate this happy day, for your brother was dead and has come back to life; he was lost but now he is found.’”
Can I tell you that God gets excited about you? You are His dearly loved child. That He runs to you, that He is a relentless pursuer of you, because He wants to invade you and transform you.
You want to be a better parent? I know you do! Well, quit running from His love. Let His love fill you deeply so you can deeply love others.